How I Blew My Free Appraisal

One of the oddest things about being a coin dealer are the almost daily phone calls I get from people who demand free information. Typically, these calls are from non-collectors who have found my name on the internet and have chosen me to help them determine the value of the coin they just found in the attic/coin they bought from on Ebay/coin they inherited from their Aunt Marge in Whitefish/etc.

So, what's "odd" about these calls?  It isn't the fact that I get them regularly; all coin dealers do. It's how unbelievably rude most of the callers are and how they feel that just because I'm listed on the internet, that I am obliged to help them.

(As an aside, the last time I tried to call Steve Cohen and ask him for stock picking advice for the upcoming year, I didn't get very far but, hey, maybe it was the way I asked....)

Let me run you through a typical call:

Phone rings.

Me: This is Doug Winter, how can I help you?

Caller: (Doesn't give me his name, just brusquely goes right into the question). I have an 1849 Pacific $5.00 gold piece, what's it worth?

Me: That's an exceedingly rare and often counterfeited coin.

Caller: No, its real gold. It's been in my family for XXX years. (More than 10 but less than 100...)

Me: That's great. Why don't you send me a photo?

Caller: I don't need to send you a photo because its real gold. What's it worth?

Me: *Sigh....* Since you already know what it's worth perhaps you should take it to a dealer who is smarter than me.

Caller hangs up. Calls back thirty seconds later. I don't take the call, recognizing his number on Caller ID. He leaves a message. I listen to it. Its not pretty. After he curses me out, tells me that not only is he never going to do business with me, he's going to "tell everyone on the Internet" not to do business with me. I'm crook. I'm rude. I "blew it" because I missed the chance to buy his coin.

What caused this phone conversation to go so horribly wrong? I'd like to think it was because he was surly, self-absorbed and arrogant, but perhaps the reason was simpler than than this.

I was brought up by Mom who taught me to be polite. I say please and thank you, I hold doors open for women, I help old people cross the street. Maybe I'm old-fashioned but I believe that when you are calling someone you don't know for a potential favor on the phone there is a certain basic etiquette that you follow. Some suggestions for a fruitful call, as follows:

  1. Introduce yourself. Tell me your your name. And not just your first name, unless you are Madonna, Prince or Ichiro. You don't have to tell me your life story but can I at least know who I'm talking to?
  2. Politely tell me the intent of your call. Tell me that you inherited some silver dollars and that you are interested in selling them.
  3. Show me enough respect to do five minutes of background checking on your coin(s). I can't tell you the number of times someone calls me and tells me that they have a coin for sale but they don't know or forgot the date. I haven't yet mastered the art of seeing through your phone (or computer screen) and manually retrieving the date of the coin that you "forgot."
  4. As your family doctor will happily remind you, no professional is obligated to spend five minutes with an anonymous, rude jerk.

OK, I know that I'm sounding like your grandma here but I'm kind of wondering how people suddenly became so rude. I'm guessing it's a function of email and social media where all sorts of formerly face-to-face interactions are now done anonymously. I get the fact that a guy calling me with a coin doesn't want to tell me his name and home address for security reasons. I also get the fact that if I don't treat this guy like he's Mrs. Norweb, he is going to write a review of DWN on Yelp or a message board and tell everyone how rude, insensitive and jerky I am. At some point, the proverbial twain must meet...

So, Mr. Pacific $5.00, I'm sorry I didn't offer you $250,000 sight-unseen for your amazing rarity, even though you wouldn't tell me your name and you already knew that the coin was real. I blew it.